Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Politics is now just a derivatives game. It's not about the moral character of the candidates, nor about their "vision," nor their experience or know-how, and least of all about the tedious "issues." The game is played at deep layers of derivation now: It's not even about the "spin" that a campaign can try to put on news events, polls or the assertions of its opponent (although this is an essential tactic). Nor is it even about the media's coverage of said spin. It's about the media's coverage of the media's coverage of the media's response to the public's response to the media's coverage of the spin.

There's been a lot of hand-wringing over whether modern American politics and policy have become "poll-driven." This is not the real worry. (In fact, we'd be a lot better off if the last eight years of executive policy had been determined in accord with public sentiment rather than in spite of it.) The trouble is, the media are poll-driven. They are engaged in a breathless dance with the public, as represented by lucrative demographic sectors, in which they cloyingly proffer "news" that might be most appetizing for the public to consume, whereupon the public more or less eats it up, the media poll the public to evaluate the success of the transaction (ever heard of ratings?), and try even harder next time to please. In other words, the media are doing the work of politicians.

The American people might be stupid, but they're no fools. They'll let someone butter their bread any old day. The media give the public what they want - entertainment, the illusion of authority, the illusion of knowledge, bells and whistles and (ironically) Britney Spears. Barack Obama's umpteen-point health care plan doesn't do that. It might buy you chemo when you're sick, but it won't try to tell you what there is to live for. All consumers aspire, strive and fantasize, and the media's business is to leverage that.

What's most worrisome is that Republicans are experts at this deeply cynical, immoral game. They don't give a fuck whether anything is "true" or not. This was not an aberration of the Bush campaign (no big surprise, as Bush's staff is now on board with McCain). It's ingrained in the cutthroat Republican culture now. They can't fight this campaign on the issues. They fucked us with Iraq, they fucked us on the environment, they've humiliated our country in the eyes of the world, they've dismissed the victims of disaster, they've tortured innumerable innocents, they've encouraged insane and profligate fiscal policies and economic practices, they've installed ass-kissing cronies at every level of government, they can't get their story straight on gays. So now we have: Obama voted against troop funding. Obama wouldn't visit the troops. Obama's playing the race card. Don't you think he's too thin?

It's encouraging that at least historically, McCain has not been completely down with this type of nonsense. (This may be the real reason the Republican "base" is so worried about him.) The pressure might get to be too much; he might have some cataclysmic and very public emotional breakdown over the evil that his minions are doing in his name. But I wouldn't count on it - the sight of the ultimate trophy seems to have rendered him docile and compliant. For that reason, too, Obama might have an advantage: Who's the fucking man in this duel right now? Not McCain. Still, we should worry.

I don't know how Republicans rationalize all this - or if they do. Maybe they see it all as an extension of individualism and free markets - get all you can ruthlessly, give the people what they want, the rest will sort itself out. The real trouble is, it works.

The bigger the lie, as somebody once said.